Archive for November 16th, 2018

by Sam Juliano

A steady drizzle and overcast sky suffused the late morning hours of Saturday, 17, August, 2013, in the town of Carnforth, part of the northwestern county of Lancashire, England.  The gloomy weather is pretty much normal for that region and that time of year, but somehow it atmospherically accentuated the twenty or so mile trek we embarked on from our home base of Kendal in the county of Cumbria.  Our destination was a seemingly sedate and rustic train depot on the outer fringes of a parish populated by barely five-thousand, and geographically distinguished by hilly terrain and its close proximity to the sea.  The Carnforth Railway Station, which has a history dating back to the mid 1800’s was used as a waylay station for soldiers during both World Wars, and served as a junction on the London, Midland and Scottish railways.  It was refurbished in 1938, and subsequently entered the movie history books after it was chosen as the primary setting for one of the most famous films ever made – David Lean’s timeless classic of repressed emotion – Brief Encounter, which was filmed during the last stage of World War II in early 1945.  The location was chosen by film executives, because it was far enough away from major cities to avert blackouts which were common during the war years.  Said Lean: “the war was still on and the railway people said, ‘there may be an air raid at any moment, and you’ll have time to put out the lights in that remote part up in the north.  We’ll know when the planes are coming.’  We were a blaze of lights from filming.’  More recently renovations were completed to the Brief Encounter refreshment room (the tea room in the film) and the “Heritage Center” that are now places of pilgrimage for the film’s fans.

My recollection of the daytime darkness and the film that made this station famous was again brought into focus the first time I laid eyes upon Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor’s exquisite  Night Train, Night Train, an atmospheric immersion of the nighttime travel experience, a tone poem which is more attuned to a symphony in music than it is to a story arc in children’s literature.  Burleigh’s concise narrative is presumably set around the mid 30’s during the Depression years as per the car models and billboards, though Minor himself spills the beans in his final note when he talks about the featured Dreyfuss locomotive which he “wonders what it might have been like to rider in the 1930s or 1940s.”  As the actual setting of David Lean’s nocturnal train station romance is on the eve of the Second World War circa late 1938, an adult reader with a vivid memory will probably be able or inclined to connect the dots.  When you add Minor’s mostly-monochrome graphite which magnificently negotiates shadows, lights flash within a celestial perspective it is easy to envision the moody work of cinematographer Robert Krasker who brought dazzling cognizance to this mode of transport in Lean’s poetic work. Of course very young children, who are the target audience won’t discover Lean and Krasker until maybe fifteen years later in their lives but they have Burleigh and Minor to lead the way in replicating the basic tenets of a train ride in all its wonder and excitement.  Book and film lovers will of course think of Chris Van Alsberg’s beloved Caldecott Medal winning The Polar Express, another book set in the blackest night depicting a train ride to the North Pole at Christmastime though children’s literature can boast a number of distinguished books on the subject including Brian Floca’s Caldecott winning Locomotive, The Little Engine That Could by Arnold Munk and Lois Lenski, Train by Elisha Cooper and the Caldecott Honor winning Freight Train by Donald Crews. (more…)

Read Full Post »